Letter to an Elder about Singing the Psalms 'Inclusively'

Discussion in 'A capella Exclusive Psalmody' started by Ed Walsh, Feb 10, 2020.

  1. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Greetings Pilgrims,

    Recently, at a small group meeting, my pastor told me for the second time that he was Psalms inclusive--not exclusive. This second time was too much for me and prompted this letter. I only sent this to my elder because I respect him highly, and because I didn't think the pastor would appreciate it. Also, you will understand the letter better if you know my pastor's custom when he is about to read the Scripture. After announcing the chapter and verses he always starts by saying, "The Word of God."

    I sent the following letter on December 31, 2019, and so far I have not received an answer. I changed the two names in the letter to my own.


    Dear Elder Eddie,

    I wrote this with Pastor Walsh in mind, but I am pretty sure he would not like to receive it. So, I'm sending it to you, my friend.

    I sing the Psalms alone, for I have no one like-minded to sing with me. Words fail me to describe the experiences I often have. I usually make up my tunes though sometimes I use some of the canned songs that come with the Scottish 1650 psalter.app. BTW - the 1650 is not just a paraphrase. (see brief history) It is more of a translation than a paraphrase. In some ways, it surpasses the rather unsingable versions in the various Bible translations. They were songs, and a faithful rendering should consider that as part of the task of the translator.

    The Psalms are the Word of God or, more specifically, the very heart of Christ. Isaac Watts, for example, thought many of them unfit for Christians. Thus, Watts' paraphrases.

    I. Watts - "it must be acknowledged still, that there are a thousand lines in it which were not made for a Church in our Days, to assume as its own: There are also many Deficiencies of Light and Glory…"

    Really? I have not found it so. Often, I am brought to streams of tears, other times to rapturous "joy unspeakable and full of glory." Sometimes I sing the pure Word to the author; (Psalms 100:2) other times, He sings to me (Zephaniah 3:17), yet other times, I sing with Jesus (Hebrews 2:12) the high praises of His God and my God. (John 20:17) I finished triumphantly with Psalm 150, so this morning I started over with Psalm one and two. Psalm one is drenched with Christ and His perfections as the only perfect man, while the second Psalm predicts His glorious march to victory over all of Creation. I experience fellowship with the Three Persons more in the Psalms and the adlib songs and rhymes that spring from my lips with my mind, heart, and body lost in wonder and praise for the One who is above all blessing and praise. (Nehemiah 9:5) The stunningly beautiful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sometimes after coming to near exhaustion, I feel almost like the man Paul knew (wink wink) who "was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). Don't worry. That's never really happened.

    Try to do that with, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, as we all play pretend that we are back there in maybe 168 B.C. hoping for the Messiah to come while enduring great suffering under Antiochus (IV) Epiphanes. Who gave the Church the liberty to make up historical fictions to praise post-Great Commission victor and Savior of the world Jesus Christ, who now has received all power in heaven and earth from His almighty Father. Shouldn't the words of songs of praise speak the truth? We hear of angels singing. No, they don't. At least not in Scripture.

    Songs by their nature are more likely to be remembered that sermons. Shouldn't they be therefor held to the same standard of doctrine? Just imagine if you went to a church where the opening prayer, without any forewarning, started with the theme of O come, O come like this. Dear God, when will you send the promised Messiah? We are mourning in this dreadful exile. Disperse the gloomy clouds of this night and remove death's dark shadows. We are suffering from Satan's tyranny. etc. amen." And then proceeded with the sermon. Anyway, you get what I mean. I think the original untranslated Latin would get just as much emotion stirred as the English translation. (For you Eddie)

    Veni, veni, Emmanuel
    Captivum solve Israel
    Qui gemit in exilio
    Privatus Dei Filio

    Pastor Walsh, you have said now twice to me that you are Psalm inclusive. I've been coming here for a while now, and I have yet to hear a true Psalm sung. I may have missed it on one of the weeks I was not at worship. I know there are a few paraphrases in the front of the hymnal, but they are far from Scripture. I am glad to sing them, but which one would you announce thusly, "Now let us all sing together Psalm one. This is the Word of God."

    I even knew someone that was offering to supply the Church with the new Trinity Psalter. But as the months passed, it became apparent that the idea met with little enthusiasm. So, the offer was withdrawn.

    [Not in original: That someone was me and they were the ones that never got back to me]

    Personal Note:
    Singing many of the hymns is tedious work for me. I am always reading ahead and correcting and changing the words that were poorly chosen--the theology. Occasionally, I give up entirely and turn to the Psalms in the back of the hymnal to redeem the time.

    Anyway, these are some of the thoughts that I started to write in messenger until it got too long.

    That's all for now.

    In Christ,

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  2. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    I agree with your pastor.
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  3. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    Ed, I like. How in the world do pastors bypass the command to sing Psalms? I pray for days of reformation! Thank you for sharing this. It’s what it will take, people applying to their ministers.
  4. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    No surprise! :)
  5. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    In the debate over psalm singing what is the definition of inclusive psalm singing? I thought it meant singing psalms and sound hymns also, and not meaning hymns are sung almost all the time and sometimes, maybe, a psalm.
  6. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I thought as you did that it meant "singing psalms and sound hymns also." The main point of my post was to show that the pastor is NOT Psalm inclusive as he claims. A true Psalm is never sung.
  7. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Agree with what? He claims to be what he is not.
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  8. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

    Brother, you posted this seeking input so I'll throw in my thoughts.

    If your main point was to show that the Pastor is not Psalm inclusive, I'm not sure you succeeded. Now I don't know what conversations/interactions have preceded this, but just taking this letter on its own I have to say that it comes across more as someone arguing for exclusive Psalmody than encouraging a church to grow in inclusive Psalmody.

    I understand that there are different views on the place of the Psalms in worship. I also understand that our exclusive Psalmody brothers who attend churches that don't hold their view face many practical challenges in worship. But I don't know that it's a right or reasonable expectation to try and change your church's position. No doubt your Pastor is aware of the arguments for and against exclusive Psalmody and he has decided against it (I know many on the PB would say he has erred, but that's the position of many in the Reformed world today). So if you're willing to agree to disagree on exclusive Psalmody, I think a positive encouragement of truly inclusive Psalmody would be better received than letters which seem to push for a position the church does not hold.

    I think your offer to purchase the wonderful new Psalter-Hymnal was a helpful (and very generous) suggestion. But perhaps they didn't accept it because they felt there were strings attached or expectations that the church would move to a more exclusive position. I don't know.

    This is obviously an issue that you take seriously (right so) and that's weighing on your heart. It's also obviously an issue that's caused some friction between you and the leadership of your church. That means that there's really two issues on the table: 1) the purity of the church (they need to be singing Psalms) but also 2) the peace of the church (your elders should have joy in shepherding you and you should be able to respect and delight in their leadership). Your membership vows obligate you to pursue both of these issues.

    I would suggest trying to sit down with your Pastor. Ask him to explain his position and understand what he means by inclusive Psalmody. Find out if there are personal reasons that the leaders haven't responded to your offers/communication. And do everything you can to fight for the peace and purity of your church.
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  9. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    A lot of people can agree that singing psalms is a good idea, or even that the psalms probably ought to be sung. But then they don't get around to singing them.
  10. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I'm not sure why you say that. I was pretty clear that I do try to sing the hymns as best I can. And in previous discussions when the pastor claimed to be Psalm inclusive it just occurred to me that he is not. That was and is my only point. I hope some exclusive hymn singers people would do as I did and point out some absurdities in some of the hymns we do sing to try to improve the selection.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2020
  11. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I agree. I remember when I wanted to sing the songs I just didn't know how. So at the small group that I lead I have brought some music with me and printed out some Psalms, and we have sung them to try to get used to it. And I'm going to continue to do that.
  12. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I am really sorry, Ed, but with all the problems in churches and the downgrade in doctrine, a long letter of complaint to a pastor about the lack of a "true" psalm in church services just doesn't really concern me all that much.

    I'd hate to be your pastor if you do this sort of thing on a regular basis. I bet it gets tiresome.

    In my sending church back in America there is an old divorced man who always complains and he has his own pet peeve doctrine and just about very Sunday he beelines for the pastor to push his agenda and ask why the pastor doesn't cover it. In a church of even 100 people there will be a variety of opinions.

    There was another man with 6 kids in my sending church who had very specific views on childcare (very rigid views) and he'd write personal letters of concerns to many fathers in the congregation. I got one such letter from him. His way was the only biblical way and we should all repent, and our actions grieved him, blah, blah.

    Such letter writers are never appreciated. Either speak in person or not at all. And stay cordial.

    Have some perspective: these folks are not denying justification by faith, they are merely not singing enough psalms for you.
  13. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Doctor

    What command? Chapter and verse, please.
  14. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    Really? :scratch:
  15. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    As for myself, I'd appreciate a letter from Ed Walsh any day.
    No. The issue is that they are not singing any psalms at all.
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  16. kodos

    kodos Puritan Board Junior

    Brother, you know that I am EP. But some of our non-EP brethren have a point. You don’t have to tear down hymns and write a long essay, in order to plead for more psalms - he is likely to receive this letter as contentious.

    However, God has called him to shepherd you. Many an undershepherd has had his heart moved by a simple plea to conscience. Ask for at least one metrical psalm a service and that you’d be happy to help out financially if that involved purchasing a new psalm book.

    Keep it short, simple, and heartfelt. You won’t convince him of EP, but you might move him as your pastor to have Christ’s compassion. I just prayed for you and your session, dear brother.
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  17. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    I would echo Romesh's point (I was thinking of saying something similar, but he put it better than I could). To be perfectly honest, I think that it is time for a bit of tough-love and self-examination among the EPers on PB. Are we trying to win people over to our views, or are we merely being contentious? Also, are we placing a greater emphasis on this doctrine than the Bible itself does? I get the distinct impression that it dominates some of your Christian lives in a manner that is simply not healthy (not you, Ed). Do not get me wrong, exclusive psalmody is important but it is not the be-all and end-all.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2020
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  18. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Did you think that was an unkind letter? That was the farthest thing from my mind.
  19. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    I don't see anything wrong with the letter. And I would wish that the worship of God would not be esteemed as a "pet doctrine".
  20. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    I've been around the block a time or two and Daniel and Rom are right that taking in totality as far as what I've seen on social media over the years, some EPs (cage stage; usually not decades at it mind you) are some of the worst thing for promoting psalm singing. But unless I"m mistaken, Ed is not EP. He says he sings the hymns. He's simply advocating for some psalms to be sung now and then in worship. Would I have sent this second hand letter? No. I mean as far as judging by all that we know which is not much compared to Ed. But still, it would have to be pretty drastic seems to me to not do so and I think it should have been sent to the man whose views for a second time he's been upset with. Would I have posted the letter to a (public mind you) discussion forum to discuss even with names wiped? No.
  21. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    It is a perfectly kind letter and you are a very kind man.

    But, with most churches being a mix of believers with different views and most pastors trying to preach the Word and also keep people happy, if even 4 or 5 people in the congregation made it a habit of such letters over 2ndary issues, the preacher could become very fatigued.

    I have been the recipient of such letters; it gets tiresome even if you only receive 3 or 4 a year.

    I'd also ask how many letters of appreciation congregants write with the same care to their preacher. If a pastor receives a letter, it is usually a gripe of some kind. When I receive such a letter, I cringe even before opening it, because I can guess at the pious-sounding-but-critical content it will surely contain.

    If I were you, I'd simply ask if a psalm could be sung once per service. That would be a good compromise. It is quite a long letter and I predict many would not take it well. Try to be content with a church that preaches the truth, even if they don't get it 100% right in singing.

    Of course, I'll admit that I write as one who is not sympathetic to the EP view, I think EP folks are a bit tedious usually anyways, so I am biased already.
  22. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I want to let you know that the elder I sent this to is one of my best friends, and he worked for me for months, and we know each other very well. We often debated one another during work time. When he said we probably should be getting back to work, I reminded him that I was the boss, and it was my money, and if I have to pay you to talk theology, that was my business. We both laughed and usually got back to work.

    My friendship with this elder and his wife and four great kids is why I knew he would be happy to consider my critique.
  23. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Ok, that is great then, brother. I retract my statements. I am glad you have this close relationship with him.
  24. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior


    Dear Ben,
    I know I already responded to one part of your post, but I thought I should add yet another response. I think you misread me again or perhaps I miss communicated my thoughts. There is not any friction that's between the pastor and me. I love him and pray for him and I often send him notes of thanks for his sermons signing them with the words, "your biggest fan." Both the pastor and the elder I mentioned attend the same small group that I'm involved with and we three take turns leading it. Our relationship couldn't be more amicable. And on rare occasions when I do bring up some polemical topics, they seem to be received very well based on the responses that I get. We three are good friends and hang out together. I seek the peace and purity of church above all things and am very patient hoping and praying for change. I'm now an older man that the Lord has, I trust, humbled quite a bit, and to my knowledge, there's not a cynical holier-than-thou attitude in me. I know that the church belongs to Christ and he rules it as he sees fit.

    Perhaps the tone of my letter sounded like a problem makers letter. But it is the kind of open communication that we three share with each other all the time. The pastor sure isn't shy to give me a piece of his mind when he thinks I'm off base on something.

    Now I got to get back to singing Psalm 60.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2020
  25. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    I had just started a post on our dear Ed’s behalf last night but had to finish it this morning, but now happily see that Ed has cleared things up. Some things were being missed that he had explained and he also hadn’t ‘splained everything.
    Just knowing him from PB this is the most gentle and lowly of brothers (in a very manly way I am sure Ed!)

    I do rejoice in the goodness and grace of God in how he has constituted the government of his church, and the possibilities for appeal that are built in because of God’s instructions to its leaders. And in the Presbyterian system this really shines— if its Presbyterianism is still taken soberly.
  26. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    If I'm talking to my friends in evangelicalism, I'll introduce the idea of psalm-singing, since it's likely they'll have never heard of it. I sometimes send them the text of a psalm in metre and an .mp3 of a tune to sing it to. I have no idea if they end up singing the psalm, but they usually thank me for it.

    On the PB, I don't think anyone is making EP an absolutely central tenet of faith. (Also, turning back to the OP, Ed Walsh is not EP.) But, as you will surely agree, psalmody is important. We ought to take the worship of God seriously, and those who identify themselves as Reformed will all agree on that point.

    Psalmody is rich. I want my friends and family to know this. Most of them are singing Hillsong or Jesus Culture or Elevation Worship. Most people I know have never sung a psalm, or even thought about singing a psalm.

    I often say that two things above all have changed my Christian life: Sabbath-keeping and psalmody. I can't now imagine my life without them!

    I do think this doctrine must be defended, especially when there are so many Christians, even Reformed Christians, who reject and even deride psalmody or exclusive psalmody. This is to the harm of the Bride of Christ.

    Maybe some of us are too combative. Maybe we're not all expert apologists for biblical doctrine.

    Someone once said, "A dog will bark when his master is attacked."

    At the very least, we know to bark.
  27. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    It really didn't.

    As always, Mr. Walsh, I appreciate your posts here. Your church and your pastor are blessed to have you.
  28. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Thanks for explaining further Ed. On the one hand it explains posting the letter here and to the elder instead of your pastor. On the other hand, it completely mystifies me how you could be so unsuccessful getting your good friend the pastor to at least get one psalm in a week.
  29. Kinghezy

    Kinghezy Puritan Board Freshman

    Same here. I enjoy reading these letters.

    I don't have as deep relationship with my pastor as Ed has with his pastor, but I have provided some feedback on aspects of worship that trouble me that have been received well. My pastor appreciates the open dialogue as well.

    My :2cents:
  30. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    My guess--and I think it is more than a guess--is that the Trinity Psalter offer (which in no way was to replace the Trinity Hymnal) had to be accepted by our ultra-professional music director/organist/pianist/quire leader and an etc. or two. He is a traditionalist and has a kind of de facto seniority in all things musical. Most likely he didn't approve the idea. As to one Psalm per week, I assume the preference of the same man was that we should not. Besides we would have to buy something better than the Trinity Hymnal's barely unrecognizable paraphrases. O, I almost forgot. Someone already offered to pay for a Psalter, but even for free the offer was turned down.

    'mystifies' was a good word. Here are some adjectives that come to mind:

    incomprehensible, unexplainable, unintelligible, unaccountable, strange, puzzling, perplexing, baffling, bewildering, mysterious, insoluble, enigmatic, weird, unfathomable, incredible, unbelievable

    It appears that we are EP after all 'Exclusion of Psalmody'
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2020

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